Dean Smith has a quality full-back pairing capable of encouraging his dynamic and exciting brand of football, made all the more effective with insatiable appetites to improve at Aston Villa.
Full-backs were once the least fashionable role on a football field, having rarely garnered the headlines in decades past, but in modern-day football, they’ve become a vital component in various playing-formations.
After spending over £200 million on transfer fees alone since achieving promotion back to the Premier League in 2019, Villa’s recruitment chiefs have apportioned in excess of £30 million on full-backs during that time.
The role of the full-back is so complex and developed in the current climate, but what can’t be doubted is the influence that both Matty Cash and Matt Targett are capable of having on Dean Smith’s side, this season and next.
Cash and Targett are required to play a crucial role in both defensive and attacking capacities – almost like a traditional box-to-box midfielder would when in and out of possession from a wider starting berth.
While Villa were toiling in the Championship as little as three years ago, managerial appointments in the Premier League would soon impact the English game, as is so often the case. Following Villa’s worst Premier League campaign for almost a generation in 2016, one shining light in that season was the emergence of Jordan Amavi. His quality from a full-back role was indicative of the modern times, an upgrade perhaps on Antonio Luna, but his physical and technical proficiencies were evident.
Over the years the role of the full-back has evolved and much of the progression from a reserved defender to an all-action, attack-minded, dynamic wide player. Once close allies, now Jose Mourinho’s best of enemies, Pep Guardiola has played a key role in revolutionising the full-back role as fashionable.
With a decreased number of traditional number tens, as instanced by Aston Villa’s own unique talent in Jack Grealish, and an influx of inverted attackers, full-backs are now tasked with providing creativity from wide areas while remaining defensively sound going the other way.
In the opening months of the Premier League campaign, for every mesmeric, dazzling Grealish run, exquisite Ross Barkley pass or Ollie Watkins goal, Villa’s right-back Cash epitomised the guts and desire that Villa had required to make a record-breaking start to the Premier League season.
His first four games in a Villa shirt were crucial to the club’s best-ever start to a Premier League campaign. In a four-game start that has seen Villa pick up 12 points from 12, three clean sheets and a 7-2 win over reigning champions Liverpool, Cash has not only been a mainstay in Dean Smith’s side but also a stand out from his seemingly reserved full-back role.
Though, after picking up a hamstring problem in a 0-0 draw at the Amex Stadium back in February, he’d miss a run of five games in which Villa only won once, taking five points from a possible 15 up for grabs. His quality and influence in the Villa team were greatly missed during that time.
Cash’s replacement, Ahmed Elmohamady has certainly proved his worth in helping guide Villa back to the Premier League, but whether he serves as adequate back-up to an important player in Smith’s side now gunning for the top flight’s higher reaches – the jury is still out on that one, unfortunately.
European football is now seemingly out of reach for Villa this season after faltering against Sheffield United, Wolves and Newcastle United during the absence of Cash and Grealish to respective injuries picked up in a goalless draw at Brighton. Though, as Cash rebuilds his match fitness, Villa knows they can count on a right-back as solid as they’ve ever had over the past decade for many a year to come.
Matty Cash wears his heart on his muddied sleeve
It’s quite often the case that as the Villa squad walk out in front of an empty, soulless Villa Park, it’s Matty Cash who looks like he’s been grafting up and down the right flank for 90 minutes before a ball has even been kicked.
Such is the attitude to apply himself in training and during preparations for kick-off, Cash’s gung-ho commitment in becoming a major cog in Villa’s pursuit of European football is evident. With muddied, white shorts and sweat poured from the back of his neck, it’s Cash who wears his heart on his sleeve on matchday – he’s a player who has already turned into a fan favourite, even if we are all yet to watch him in the flesh.
When Dean Smith persisted in brokering a deal to land one of his priority targets last summer, Cash left Nottingham Forest with all the well-wishes of a player that’s stolen the hearts of a fanbase all too familiar with some of England’s finest players down the years. Cash left the City Ground with no shortage of offers from around the Premier League, but there was only one destination on his mind.
The Nigel Doughty Academy product left the City Ground in a deal worth up to £16 million off the back of a fine season which saw him crowned the club’s player of the year in the 2019/20 campaign – joining the illustrious company of former winners, Stuart Pearce, Kenny Burns, and Peter Shilton.
Under Sabri Lamouchi last season, Forest came within touching distance of the play-offs – that however, a disappointing ending to a season that had promised so much for a club who had been in League One more recently than the Premier League.
Despite their late-season capitulation, Cash played a crucial role in Lamouchi’s side last term as interest swiftly came from Sheffield United, West Ham United and even AC Milan towards the back end of last season.
Forest fans, as well as general on-lookers, viewed Cash as one of the most promising youngsters in the Championship for a few years. His high-energy performances throughout his four years stay at the City Ground makes him a very useful asset across several positions.
And after becoming Villa’s first signing of the summer, Cash couldn’t hold back his delight when he penned a long-term deal at Villa Park.
“My agent rang me and said that Villa were interested, and immediately it was the place I wanted to come to,” Cash revealed to VillaTV.
“I said, ‘don’t even worry about anywhere else, I want to come here and play’.
“It’s such a big football club, from the fanbase to the stadium. Every time I played at Villa Park before it just sold itself to me.”
His enthusiasm, determination and versatility brands him the correct profile of a player to succeed in the top flight which seems even more likely given his ‘every manager’s dream’ tag.
Having been released by Wycombe as a youngster, Cash emerged from the FAB football academy in Bisham before signing a three-year deal at Nottingham Forest.
John Terry has been working closely with Cash to sharpen his defensive game while adapting to the pace and intensity for the Premier League will come with more game-time under his belt.
An enthusiastic individual on the training pitch, Cash could’ve kicked up a fuss when former coach, Sabri Lamouchi – new to the Championship managing game – ordered him to step into the full-back role, away from his preferred role, one he’d been developing in for numerous years. Though his response was a breath of fresh air.
Taking on the responsibility for the team, flourishing in a position where he could still break the lines, attack and defend with versatility – eye-catching performances last season weren’t few and far between, in fact, quite the opposite.
His work-rate has rarely been beaten throughout 90 minutes during his Premier League showings this term. He epitomises the modern full-back role with an appetite to influence the game from his deeper-lying position.
Rarely will you hear a bad word said about Cash, his temperament, attitude and focus is testament to his character, and his overall game is all the better for it. His athletic efficiencies are also evidently helping out Villa this season and certainly, they’ve helped him personally adapt to the top flight.